In PART TWO Madeline faced very serious life threatening health issues, and was transfered to a larger NICU at UCLA in an attempt to save her life…
We had been told that it would take about forty-five minutes for Maddie to be transferred and admitted to UCLA’s NICU, so my parents and I made a quick stop at my place in order for me to take a “military” shower (basically a ninety second shower), and change into fresh clothes. While I was doing that my parents took Rigby out to the bathroom. We then were off once again leaving Rigby very confused at her second two minute visit of the day. Luckily for her Leah had agreed to spend the night at our place with the pup because I didn’t know how long I would be at the hospital and Rigby – the spoiled princess that she is – had never spent a night alone in her life.
En route to UCLA all I could think about was how the transport team had to hand pump Maddie’s lungs, and how literally her life was in their hands. The doctor at the hospital where she was born had told me not to worry, as there were four men on the transport team who would take turns pumping, but this comforted me little. What if their hands got tired? And how long could they keep pumping Maddie’s lungs at the proper, life sustaining rate? I looked out the window at the stretch of road that we, like Maddie ‘s ambulance a few minutes earlier, were travelling on, and realized how lucky we were that this was happening Sunday at nine p.m. During the week this road was more often than not clogged with a sea of idling cars, and the parallel streets to the North and South, were no better. How would they have gotten Maddie to the Nitrous Oxide she so desperately needed if this was happening at that time of day? And how long would they have been able to keep pumping her lungs if they got stuck in one of those traffic jams? Could they have sent over the UCLA helicopter? If so, how long would that take? After all, every minute counts.
Soon we pulled into UCLA and I set out running toward the hospital as my parents parked the car. I didn’t have a clue how to get to the NICU though, and at first it felt like one of those bad dreams where you’re trying to get somewhere, but whenever you think you’re finally there you open a door and find another giant corridor ahead of you. Eventually I found my way inside and took the elevator up to the second floor where the NICU was.
Upon entering the NICU I was relieved to see Madeline lying in a basinet. Sure, she was once again surrounded by a team of nurses and doctors, and yes, her little chest was once again vibrating violently thanks to an even more high powered ventilator, but she had survived the ambulance ride over. I watched as nurses and doctors swarmed around her, then noticed a large machine to her right that administered the Nitrous Oxide.
Before too long the doctor in charge, Dr. Walker, introduced herself. She was a young woman, no older than me, and as I looked around the NICU I saw that just about everyone else there was young. This may be how you want your hospitals to look when you’re watching Grey’s Anatomy or E.R., but when your baby’s life is at stake you want Meryl Streep or Morgan Freeman in charge, not Katherine Heigl regardless of how cute she may be. UCLA, I was to find out, is a training hospital, and most of the doctors there are fellows (basically the last step before you become a full fledged doctor). I tried not to worry about all of this as my parents arrived and Dr. Walker suggested we move to a waiting room to discuss Maddie.
The “waiting room” Dr. Walker led us to was certifiably Kafkaesque — it was no more than ten by ten feet and without windows. Well, no real windows anyway. A painter (obviously, like the doctors, still in training) had painted a couple of poorly rendered windows on the walls, but they did little to relieve the feeling of claustrophobia the room elicited. Making the room even less pleasant was the fact that it was connected to a tiny bathroom, and whenever anyone used it you could hear absolutely everything going on inside it. There were also no magazines on the magazine rack. I didn’t notice any of this initially, however, as I was only interested in what the doctor had to say about Maddie.
Dr. Walker spoke in a calm and easy to understand manner, and before long had assuaged my worries about her age. What she had to say, unfortunately, was not very encouraging. She told us that Maddie was a very sick baby, and had three major issues to deal with. First, Maddie’s lungs, as Heather and I had feared, were underdeveloped. Second, there seemed to be a serious problem with Maddie’s heart, and a cardiologist, as we spoke, was giving Maddie an echocardiogram test (“echo” for short) to figure out what it was. Lastly, Maddie was premature, and would have to overcome all of the serious problems associated with being born early. Dr. Walker wanted us to understand that while they would be giving Maddie the best care possible, we needed to understand that it is a long road to health even for premature babies who didn’t have lung or heart issues as Maddie did.
I called Heather and related all that Dr. Walker had told me, then, about a half-hour later, was summoned back to the NICU to speak with the cardiologist fellow regarding the results of Maddie’s echo test. He too appeared to be very young, and explained that, while it was hard to get a good echo reading because the ventilator made Maddie’s chest move so much, he believed he knew what the problem was with Maddie’s heart. To put it in the simplest terms, a baby is supposed to start pumping blood through a ventricle in his or her heart upon being born. Maddie, unfortunately, could not do this because her ventricle was blocked. The cardiologist had a couple ideas on how to deal with the problem. Ideally, he said, a procedure could be performed where the ventricle would be un-blocked using a stint, similar to angioplasty. The cardiologist’s fear, however, was that once the ventricle was unblocked the chamber that is supposed to pump the blood through the ventricle may be too small to do the job. In that case surgery would be necessary to enlarge it. While I was trying to wrap my head around the idea of my little baby having open heart surgery, the cardiologist added that this would only be possible if Maddie gained enough weight and got strong enough to undergo surgery in one month. If it took Maddie longer than a month to become surgery ready the medication that would keep her heart going until then would start to have serious side effects, not least of which was brain damage.
I called Heather to tell her what the cardiologist said, then went to the waiting room to relate the same information to my parents. Soon Madeline’s nurse for the night, Nancy, dropped by to speak with us. Nancy had a kind, nurturing presence, and explained that there were two nurse shifts a day – one from seven a.m. to seven p.m., and another from seven p.m. to seven a.m. I could visit Madeline whenever I liked, she told me, except for between seven and eight in the morning and seven and eight at night when the nurses changed shifts. She also told me not to feel the need to remember anyone’s name as I would be meeting lots of people, and that I should never be afraid to ask any questions.
It was soon past midnight and my father and I decided that my mother, who was a recent stroke survivor, should be taken back to their hotel room so that she could get some sleep. It had been a long day with a lot of stress, and we didn’t want to press her any further. My father told me he would come back after he dropped her off, however.
To be continued in PART FOUR when Maddie struggles to survive her first night in the NICU.